GOP Senate candidate failed to report private plane trip from Ind. supporter

GOP Senate candidate failed to report private plane trip from Ind. supporter
© Greg Nash

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), a candidate for Senate, failed to report $1,100 in expenses to federal campaign officials, including a private plane trip last month from a friend with a real estate development business.

His campaign acknowledged to The Hill that the trip wasn’t reported on forms submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and said the costs have yet to be reimbursed. It characterized the lack of disclosure as an oversight, saying it didn’t get an invoice for the flight.

ADVERTISEMENT

The undisclosed trip is another embarrassment for Stutzman, who charged his campaign thousands of dollars for what his wife described on Facebook as a family vacation. Stutzman defended that trip as campaign-related but paid back the money “in the interests of full disclosure,” according to his campaign. 

Stutzman, a Tea Party firebrand, is locked in a difficult primary battle with Rep. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language MORE (R-Ind.) to replace retiring Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall 11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (R-Ind.). Voters will pick the GOP nominee in Indiana’s primary on Tuesday.

A WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll from earlier this month showed Young leading Stutzman by 12 points, 43 percent to 31 percent, with a quarter of likely voters undecided.

The Stutzman campaign said the cost of the trip pales in comparison to the estimated $2 million that outside groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have spent helping Young.

Mike Speedy, an Indiana state representative who owns a real estate development business, flew Stutzman from Indianapolis to Lake County, in the northwestern part of the state, on a campaign trip in mid-March. He posted a picture of himself with the congressman on Facebook and noted in the comments section that he expected the campaign to report the flight as an in-kind contribution to the FEC.

But the Stutzman campaign’s April quarterly disclosure to the FEC failed to report the flight either as a donation or as an expenditure. The report covers the period from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Kenneth Gross, a campaign finance expert at Skadden, a global law firm, said expenses must be reported when they’re incurred and that the lack of an invoice is not a valid excuse.

“You report expenses when they’re incurred, not when they’re billed, if it’s over $500,” he said. “It’s quite a difficult thing to track, incurring expense.”

The unreported flight comes on the heels of an Associated Press report that asserted Stutzman improperly billed a family vacation to California to his campaign. The AP reported that Stutzman billed more than $2,000 for airline tickets, a van rental and a room at the Hilton.

Stutzman’s campaign has spent more than $300,000 on flights, cars, hotels and meals since he was elected to the House in 2010, according to the AP.

Josh Kelley, Stutzman’s campaign manager, said the campaign didn’t report last month’s flight on Speedy’s plane, a Cesna, because he had not seen the invoice until The Hill contacted him about the reporting discrepancy Tuesday. 

Kelley told The Hill in an interview Tuesday that the campaign would pay a charter rate for the flight, which he estimated at between $1,100 and $1,165. The invoice from Speedy’s real estate business, American Village Properties, LLC, charges the campaign $700 for driving Stutzman to events and consulting work as well as $375 for a “reimbursable aircraft operating expense.”

Speedy described himself as “friends,” but not close friends, with Stutzman, adding, “I admire and respect tremendously his courage to protect freedoms and to make principled votes even when it goes against the grain and leadership or our party.” 

The businessman said in an email that he misspoke when he wrote on Facebook that he expected the flight to be publicly reported as a $400 contribution. He wrote that what was reported as a $250 contribution to the campaign on March 31 reflected the flight. In a subsequent note he said he had made a $250 cash gift to the campaign, which he had forgotten about, adding that he had just learned Tuesday that Stutzman’s campaign intended to reimburse him for the flight.

The invoice for the flight shared with The Hill is dated April 19 and requests payment within 30 days.

Stutzman has vigorously defended his decision to charge his campaign for the trip to California.

He told a Fort Wayne radio station that he wants to minimize time apart from his family, which sometimes means bringing them along on work trips.

“I want to keep my family with me as much as possible,” he told the station, WOWO. “That’s part of the reason why we decided to do the personal trip for Christy and the boys and me on the campaign. It was during the summer break for the boys, and we decided, hey, if there is a way to do this trip that way I’m not away from my family.”

The Indianapolis Star reported last week that Stutzman’s entire family attended at least one campaign dinner, and his wife attended several campaign meetings while in California last year.

The campaign also shared records of personal credit card expenses from the trip, indicating it was not entirely paid for by the campaign.

Kelley said Young’s campaign has benefited from spending by outside groups backed by the GOP establishment.

“Transparency in the reporting process is extremely important, and that is why Indiana voters should be troubled by the millions of untraceable corporate dollars Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump MORE is funneling into this race for Todd Young through super-PACs and his cronies at the U.S. Chamber,” he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).

Jordain Carney contributed.